Forecast 2014: CBA Takes Aim At Clients Of Modest Means

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Kimberly Knox
Kimberly Knox

The advent of 2014 is the halfway mark of my presidential term of the Connecticut Bar Association. I am delighted to report that there is much to celebrate at the CBA and the future is bright. The CBA is a remarkably productive and ambitious organization of legal professionals seeking professional growth and development while working together to advance access to justice and the rule of law.

Some of the CBA projects on the horizon include a Modest Means Program being developed by the CBA Pro Bono Committee and Young Lawyers Section in collaboration with CBA leadership and the Judicial Branch. With the current crisis facing the funding available for legal service organizations and providers, the necessity to meet the needs of Connecticut citizens in the courts has only increased. The purpose of the program is two-fold: (1) to provide more Connecticut residents access to the courts at a reduced hourly rate, which they are able to afford; and, (2) to provide CBA lawyers with greater opportunities for courtroom experience by matching them to potential clients of modest means.

The program will be supported by training, experienced attorney mentors, and available work space. The CBA will continue working to further access to justice for all people in the Connecticut courts.

Similarly, the CBA and the Judicial Branch have initiated The Small Claims Project for Retired Attorneys, a brand-new project that provides legal advice to self-represented litigants in small claims courts. Volunteer attorneys meet one-on-one with clients and provide brief advice about procedural questions, how to present their claims or defenses, and what they might need by way of documentary or testamentary evidence. The pilot program received positive reviews from litigants, attorney-volunteers and court personnel. The goal in 2014 is to expand the program to courts in Bridgeport, Waterbury, Manchester and New Haven.

Legislative Efforts

At the beginning of the 2014 year, the CBA will makes its views known to the Connecticut legislature. The CBA addresses legislation pertaining to the legal profession, which has included the unauthorized practice of law and occupational taxes. CBA lobbyists Bill Chapman and Bob Shea will further the association's legislative agenda, which is developed by CBA sections and committees and approved by the CBA's governing bodies.

The legislative agenda includes environmental, estate and probate, elder, human rights, child welfare, real estate, commercial, finance and bankruptcy laws to name but a few. While each of the legislative positions are worthy of comment, the following are a few examples showing the breadth of the issues.

The CBA supports the elimination of a "sunset provision" on a 2012 statute that has increased filing fees, with revenues going to Connecticut's legal aid agencies. Following the firearms reform legislation enacted in the last session after the tragedy in Newtown, the CBA is following two related areas of legislation impacting school safety and security and mental health services for young adults. The CBA is also closely monitoring potential legislation concerning the Freedom of Information Act and protections on the right to know which has received significant publicity in the aftermath of the Newtown crisis.

Many of the CBA's substantive law sections monitor amendments by the Uniform Laws Commission and advocate for amendments to applicable, corresponding Connecticut law. The CBA is supporting the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act, ensuring that military members and their families, serving away from their place of residence at the time of elections, are provided the infrastructure necessary to cast absentee ballots in a timely and meaningful manner.

Similarly, the Business Law Section supports the adoption of a benefit corporation bill in Connecticut based upon the Model Benefit Corporation Act. The major characteristic of a benefit corporation is that its purpose is to create a material positive impact on society and the environment in addition to making a profit.

Family Law Task Forces

In family law, CBA members are currently serving on a legislative task force considering alimony reform and a separate task force on child custody and parental alienation. CBA sections also take positions on procedures, such as the Administrative Law Section's support of an independent office of administrative hearings.

In the meantime, the CBA's Pro Bono Committee is also asking the Judicial Branch's Rules Committee to add a cy pres provision to the Connecticut Practice Book.

The Connecticut Bar Association, with its divergent practice areas and diverse body of lawyers, has tremendous strength when it speaks as one voice. On Bank Street in New Britain, at the headquarters of the CBA, Acting Executive Director Douglas Brown inspires and supports the volunteer leaders and staff through his energy, enthusiasm, a highly professional management style and a complete dedication to excellence for the organized bar.

This year, the CBA will launch a new, fresh event to present its annual awards on April 3, followed by a reinvigorated annual meeting to be held on June 16, 2014. The Connecticut Bar Association is a professional community of over 9,000 members and growing. It will continue to offer a vast array of professional and community service opportunities both now and into the future.•

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